Local News

ABC board OKs penalty for Chapel Hill bar linked to fatal I-85 crash

Posted November 18, 2015 12:04 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2015 8:12 p.m. EST

— State regulators on Wednesday approved a fine and suspension for a Chapel Hill bar accused of serving a 20-year-old who later was involved in a wrong-way collision on Interstate 85 that killed three people.

La Residence's alcohol permits will be suspended for 50 days, starting Dec. 18, but the final 36 days of the penalty will be lifted if the bar pays a $5,000 fine by Dec. 11.

The West Rosemary Street bar initially agreed to pay the fine to avoid any permit suspension, but members of the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission rejected that deal last month, saying they wanted to send a message about underage drinking.

"I hope that La Residence and all people holding permits understand their responsibility in serving anybody under 21 years old. I cannot say enough – it is their responsibility when they get a permit that nobody under 21 is served," ABC Commission Chairman Jim Gardner said.

Two-thirds of the 122 cases the commission handled Wednesday dealt with underage drinking, Gardner noted, adding that he hopes state lawmakers will revisit the $5,000 penalty and perhaps increase it in the future.

"I think they clearly understand that any bar operation can make that back in, basically, over a weekend," he said. "It would be something I would hope they would look at."

Syd Alexander, a lawyer for La Residence, said the publicity surrounding the case has affected the bar's business. He said it's clear the commission wants to send a message.

Authorities said Chandler Michael Kania used a fake ID to drink at La Residence and He's Not Here in the early hours of July 19. A short time later, they said, he was driving north in the southbound lanes near the split of I-85 and Interstate 40 in Orange County when his Jeep Wrangler collided with a Suzuki driven by Felecia Harris.

Harris, 49, of Charlotte, her friend Darlene McGee, 46, of Charlotte, and Harris' granddaughter Jahnice Beard, 6, of Brooklyn, N.Y., were killed in the fiery wreck. Harris' daughter, Jahnia King, 9, was seriously injured.

Toxicology tests show that Kania had a blood-alcohol content of 0.17, which is more than twice the level at which a driver is considered impaired under North Carolina law. Because Kania is underage, however, any alcohol in his system would have been illegal.

Alexander said La Residence plans to pay its fine, which means its 14-day suspension would fall during winter break for area college students. ABC Commission spokeswoman Agnes Stevens said that all penalties imposed by the panel on Wednesday are slated to begin on Dec. 18.

The bar's suspension ends at 7 a.m. Jan. 1, Stevens said.

He's Not Here couldn't reach a deal with ABC staff over the violations it faces in the case, and it has appealed to the Office of Administrative Hearings.

Kania is under house arrest in Asheboro awaiting trial on three counts each of second-degree murder and felony death by motor vehicle and one count each of felony serious injury by motor vehicle, driving while impaired, driving left of center, obtaining alcohol by a minor and underage consumption of alcohol as a minor. A grand jury also indicted him on an aggravating factor linked to a fight he had with friends who tried to stop him from driving after drinking that night.